TITLE: Not If I See You First
AUTHOR: Eric Lindstrom
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins Children’s
RELEASE DATE: December 1, 2015
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction
PAGE COUNT: 310
At the heart of Not If I See You First is a powerful message about disability, disbanding blindness stereotypes I didn’t even realise I believed. While I loved this representation, our fierce front woman, Parker Grant, is not the best developed character. Despite having some fantastic themes with plenty of potential, this book was hit and miss for me.
Parker is a tough, independent teen who lost her eyesight in the car crash that killed her mother. When her father overdoses on anti-depressants, Parker’s extended family move in to look after her. Three months later, things appear to be looking up for Parker—not only is she pursuing her passion for running as as a new member of the track team, she also has a new love interest who knows how to treat a blind girl right. When her estranged first love reappears at the worst possible time, she starts to lose her grip on her icy facade, and is forced to face the fears and truths she buried deep within.
Don’t deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.
Don’t be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I’m just like you, only smarter.
There are NO second chances. Violate my trust and I’ll never trust you again. Betrayal is unforgivable.
Parker’s “rules” are the backbone of her character and an impenetrable suit of armour defending her heart. Often at the cost of pissing people off, Parker is savagely self-reliant, proving that her blindness is neither a weakness nor a disability, and resenting all special favour. Her defensiveness about other people’s assumptions towards her is authentic to her age and maturity level—in the midst of her identity-forming years, tragedy has forced Parker to grow up too quickly. She overcompensates for what she sees as her emotional weakness by presenting a tough persona to the world. Her character development drives the story. I love that her growth revolves around learning not to condemn vulnerability and let the right people into her heart to build a vital support network.
I should like that, being smooth as glass, shouldn’t I? Unaffected, unconcerned, That’s exactly what I want to be. Why should I suddenly hate it that some people might think that about me? Why should I care what anyone thinks anyway? – page 42
Although Parker is clearly supposed to appeal to readers who love strong female characters, I disliked her for most of the book because I couldn’t get a good grasp on her inner motives and misbeliefs until roughly halfway through. When we first meet Parker, she has already experienced huge trauma, but I didn’t get a strong sense of her grief until much later in the story. For her emotionless façade and inevitable emotional breakdown to ring true, I needed to feel her pain flowing beneath the surface of the story like veins. Her first person narration should have given us more insight into her dam of immense pain, ready to overflow its banks in the plot’s emotional climax.
I also felt the book was too long, bulking out the plot with unnecessary content that could be edited down. I was interested in everything I read, and stayed tuned in throughout, but I couldn’t shake the feeling it could have been a more powerful read if the content had been delivered more like a sprint than a marathon.
Parents, Friends & Love Interests
Killing off both of Parker’s parents was literal overkill. I love the conflict and themes that emerge when Parker’s extended family invade her home, but this situation would have made just as much—if not more—sense if they came to look after Parker and her father while he was battling depression. Considering that this would have equally communicated the themes and reduced the unrealistic load of trauma Parker is expected to heft, I don’t understand why her dad couldn’t have been spared! (A YA book that has a believable father/daughter dynamic following the mother’s death is Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield. The themes that emerge from this dynamic—especially overprotectiveness— would have aligned with Parker’s character growth.)
The romance plot had me hooked until Parker’s estranged first love and manic pixie dream boy, Scott, enters the story. [SPOILER ALERT: I resent how obvious it was from the moment Scott enters the story that he and Parker will end up together. I feel that Parker not ending up in a relationship may have sent a stronger message—she doesn’t need a boy to validate her, and I found the way she learns to be vulnerable and trusting in her platonic friendships was much more meaningful and empowering than her reconciliation with her one-dimensional ex-boyfriend.]
On the plus side, the dialogue is consistently well-written and age/maturity-level appropriate to reveal character and manage tension and conflict. Dialogue is the strongest insight into Parker’s high school hierarchy, and all of the best character growth moments take place during fantastic arguments.
This representation of blindness gave me a lot to think about, and challenged my own assumptions. Parker is not “disabled” but differently abled—she experiences many different challenges to most of us, yet she is equally capable of overcoming these obstacles in her own way. Parker confronts countless stereotypes of blindness, demonstrating her strength and self-empowerment. So far, this is the only book with a blind protagonist I’ve read, and I would love recommendations for other representations.
Not If I See You First is hit and miss. The thing I appreciated most, besides its great dialogue, is its thought-provoking representation of blindness. While I know some readers will connect to Parker more than others, I found her emotional arc didn’t reflect the quantity of grief and pain in her life. By far the strongest aspect of her journey revolved around her platonic relationships, which unfortunately take a back seat to the shallow romance plot.
- In your opinion, what makes the perfect Strong Female Lead? Can you recommend me one who you think is really well-written?
- How do you feel about books that explore trauma and grief? Have you read any books that handle trauma really well or really badly?
- Can you recommend me any other representations of blindness, especially Own Voices narratives?